Let’s round out our lessons on how to express the time in various languages with the basic expressions used to tell time in Italian. Telling time in Italian is similar to telling time in the other Romance languages that we have covered. However, Italian time expressions have their own share of unique of quirks, so do not assume that a time-telling convention automatically carries over from one Romance language to another.
If you need more help with time expressions or any other aspect of the Italian language, contact the Language Island in Atlanta. Our experienced Italian teachers can create a program tailored to your individual needs.
Expressing the Hour
When referring to the hour, begin with the verb essere (to be). Use the singular é for “one o’clock” and the plural sono for any other hour.
It’s one o’clock.
Sono le due.
It’s two o’clock.
Note the use of the feminine article. Expressions of time take the feminine article because ora, the Italian word for “hour,” is feminine.
It is customary to express minutes in the first half hour by adding to the hour with the word e (and). While this custom exists in English, (15 minutes after 5, 20 after 3, etc.) it is used less often than its Italian counterpart:
E’ l’una ora e quattro minuti.
It’s one o’clock and four minutes. (1:04)
Sono le due e dodici.
It’s two and twelve. (2:12)
Minutes past the half hour mark are customarily expressed by subtracting from the upcoming hour with meno. Again, this custom exists in English but is less frequently used:
E’ l’una meno quattro.
It’s four minutes until one. (12:56)
Sono le due meno dodici.
It’s twelve minutes until two. (1:48)
A quarter past and half past the hour are expressed with un quarto and mezzo, respectively:
E’ l’una e un quarto.
It’s a quarter past one. (1:15)
Sono le due e mezzo.
It’s half past two. (2:30)
Un quarto alle tre.
Sono le tre meno mezzo.
It’s a quarter until three. (2:45)
Sono le due e tre quarti.
It’s two and three quarters. (2:45)
Expressing the Time of Day
To say that it is morning, afternoon, evening, or night without mentioning a specific time, use di mattina, di pomeriggio, di sera, and di note, respectively. While you can use these expressions with a 12 hour clock similar to how English speakers use “a.m.” and “p.m.,” most native Italian speakers don’t bother. Instead, they use a 24 hour clock:
Sono le due di pomeriggio (It’s 2 p.m.) = Sono le quattordici. (It’s 14:00 hours.)
The words for noon and midnight are still commonly used in time expressions. These are mezzogiorno and mezzanotte, respectively:
It’s noon. (12 p.m. / 12:00)
It’s midnight. (12 a.m. / 0:00)
Asking the Time
To ask the time, use Mi scusi, che ore sono? (“Excuse me, what time is it?”)